There is a big problem with home education in this country and that is that it tends all too often to go hand in hand with the kind of lifestyle which attracts unfavourable attention and gives rise to suspicions of abuse and neglect. I have of course touched on this theme before, but I want today to look in some detail at how this process works to the detriment of home educating families.
In order to identify neglect and abuse, those working in the fields of health and social services often use protocols which allow them to pick out warning signs. Some of these signs are fairly obvious; things like excessive alcohol use by parents or malnutrition of their children. Such clear-cut causes for concern are relatively rare and more often than not, warnings are raised by a constellation of more subtle indicators. This is where home educating parents often find themselves being looked at a little askance. Among the items to look out for on one commonly used instrument, for example, are these three:
Persistently not accessing health care for child/ante-natal care/not acting on medical advice/untreated ailments (including concealed pregnancy/birth
Repeated missed appointments, or sustained reluctance to engage with services
Serious school/nursery attendance concerns
Already, readers might be seeing the nature of the problem. Some mothers, and there are many in the home educating community, do not approve of vaccinations and refuse to take their children along to the health centre for them. This behaviour can be difficult to distinguish from that of the chaotic and disorganised parent who does not attend simply because she can’t be bothered or has forgotten about the appointment.
‘Reluctance to engage with services’; well, I think we all know many home educating parents who display this trait!
‘Serious school attendance concerns’ can be interpreted as not sending a child to nursery or school at all.
Perhaps now, readers will begin to see how innocent home educating parents can come to find themselves being targeted, not because they are actually abusers, but because their conduct and way of life can be very difficult to distinguish from those parents who are genuinely neglecting their children? When we add to this the indisputable fact that a large number of home educated children have special educational needs of one sort or another, the situation becomes even more complex. This is because having a child with special needs is in itself viewed as a risk factor for abuse and neglect.
I have written before of the foolishness of those home educating parents who then go on to make matters worse by playing silly beggars and going out of their way to prevent professionals from knowing anything about their children. These people are setting themselves up for trouble.
The problem then, is not that social workers, teachers and nurses are zeroing in on home educated children, when they should be doing more to identify those children genuinely in need of their services. It is that the instruments that they use to find those children in danger of abuse or neglect do tend to lead them to many home educated children as well. The remedy for this is for home educating parents to be aware of this tendency and to guard against it. There are many things that families are able to do to alleviate anxieties on the part of professionals charged with protecting the welfare of children. Setting out to be awkward and give the impression of wanting to hide from health and education services is not likely to help anybody.